Jul. 4—CLAYTON — When Derek Balmas, Franklinville, pulled a world-record setting 53.149-inch muskellunge out of the water near Clayton Nov. 8, he knew instantly that it was an extraordinary fish.
“When it came up from the water, it looked like me — and I’m about 6 feet tall and 200 pounds,” Balmas said. In April, Balmas received an official mailed certificate for the International Game Fish Association’s All-Tackle, Catch and Release World Record.
Muskellunge or “muskies” are the largest members of the pike family, Esocidae, which also includes northern pike, chain pickerel, redfin pickerel and grass pickerel, all native to New York, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation.
“They are the largest freshwater sportfish in New York state and are considered the ultimate trophy by anglers who pursue them,” the DEC writes on its website. “Their legendary ability to challenge and confound the angler, their massive size potential, and their well-earned status as top predators, have often inspired anglers to forsake other fish for a chance to encounter the “fish of 10,000 casts.”
Balmas is first mate for Capt. Bob Walters, who operates Water Wolf Charters out of Clayton, and both of them had decided to take their friend Mike Muehlemann out to catch his first muskie, after spending the last month guiding clients. It ended up being a productive day, with personal and official records broken.
“At an hour and a half in, the first rod fired,” Balmas said. “Mike grabbed the rod and fought the fish, landing his first ever St. Lawrence muskie, a 48-incher.”
After lunch, they had another fish hit on the downrigger, which ended up being another muskie, this time a little smaller at 35 inches.
Balmas said that it was about 3 p.m. when the big one hit the planer board, which had a Swim Whiz Green Perch bait on it. “I looked over and the rod was doubled over, and I knew there was a fish on it,” Balmas said. He picked up the 8 1/2 -foot long medium-heavy Shimano rod and began to battle the fish.
“It just stayed down deep most of the time, which is usually a pretty good inclination that it’s a big fish,” he said. After about 20 minutes the fish came up to the surface and Balmas was able to get a look at it. At that point he knew he was dealing with a huge muskie.
“Towards the end it took a few runs, and it was probably around 30 minutes in that we finally got the net under her and slipped her into the boat,” he said.
Walters said the expression on Balmas’s face when he finally held up the fish, was that of, “Holy Cow!”
Balmas said they aimed to get the fish back in the water in about two minutes. “We took measurements fast, and took some good pictures, and released her.”
Balmas gives credit to Walters for their success that day. “Bob’s the only 79-year-old I know, who on his day off after fishing 20-some days, decides ‘let’s go fishing for ourselves.’ Most people would just have taken the day off, and it would have never happened.”
Persistence isn’t the only thing that is important when muskie fishing. “In that game, when you might go five to 10 days without a bite, you need somebody to lighten the mood and to be entertaining,” Balmas said. “Bob is not only the best muskie fisherman on the St. Lawrence, but he also makes those days go by.”